Event ReportsPublished on Jan 25, 2008
An 'Agreed Line of Administrative Control' in the place of the existing Line of Actual Control (LAC) could free India and China from some of current problems at the bilateral border talks, feels Mr R Swaminathan, former Secretary and Director-General (Security), Government of India.
'Agreed Line of Administrative Control' can help take India-China border talks forward: former govt official

An ‘Agreed Line of Administrative Control’ in the place of the existing Line of Actual Control (LAC) could free India and China from some of current problems at the bilateral border talks, feels Mr R Swaminathan, former Secretary and Director-General (Security), Government of India. Mr. Swaminathan’s suggestion came at an Interaction on the “Prime Minister’s China Visit” at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF Chennai Chapter) on 25th January 2008.  

Describing himself as an optimist in matters pertaining to India-China relations, Mr. Swaminathan said he wanted to play the “Devil’s advocate”, noting that his optimism, however, was not matched by the ground reality for a long time. “So much apparently misplaced euphoria about the visit has been generated by media and political hype that there seems to be a need to let out some of the hot air and bring the balloon closer to the ground,” he said, referring to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit to China, from 13 January.

Mr. Swaminathan said there was a need to look clinically at the various “achievements” claimed for the visit by the “spin” put out by Chinese and Indian officials and media. Mr Qin Gang, spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters on 15 January (after the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Hu Jintao) that the visit would have ''long-term and significant'' impact on bilateral relations between India and China. He said, ''The time is not long, but the content is rich.” The spokesman described the documents and MOUs (for cooperation in different fields) signed during the visit as a ''milestone,'' and 'a signal of the big step forward in the history of bilateral relations'. He added that “The 'Shared Vision for the 21st Century”, a joint document signed by the two countries, ''is a message to the outside world that the two sides will intensify their cooperation to build a harmonious world”. The visit and talks were a ''reflection of the political will'' of both sides to ''press ahead'' with their bilateral ties. India and China view their ties from a strategic and long term perspective.

Mr. Swaminathan said though India and China signed ‘A shared vision for 21st century’, and many Memoranda of Understandings, it did not mean much in reality to enhance the achievements of the PM’s visit. He said in diplomatic parlance, treaties and agreements are signed by countries when they agree on all related matters concerning an issue, and normally involve certain agreed restrictions on the exercise of full sovereignty on those matters. Treaties are more sacrosanct than agreements, and in many countries also involve the legislative wing. They are normally registered with the UN. Agreements are generally more easily amended or abrogated, and hence are not as “binding” as treaties, he said.

He pointed out that nothing really new has been said either by India or by China. He said the operative MOUs signed on 14 January really have nothing to do with the talks and discussions during the Prime Minister’s visit. Such MOUs are carefully negotiated and finalised over a period of time; and kept ready to be signed at an appropriate media opportunity.

Mr. Swaminathan said the two Special Representatives on the ‘Border issue’, namely, India’s National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Chinese Vice Minister Dai Bingguo, met on 15 December and for the first time exchanged their versions of drafts on a possible framework agreement involving concessions from both sides. It has been stated that India is keen on holding a meeting of the expert group to look into the "clarification" of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), but Beijing is still not willing to accede to India’s long-standing demand for the exchange maps – probably because that may give the impression that the LAC could become a de jure boundary, he said.

He said while Dr. Manmohan Singh told the Indian media that "progress has been made, and both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao has assured him that they have the political will just as India to make the necessary decisions, the Chinese Foreign Office spokesman made the usual pro forma statement about China favouring an “equitable and fair” solution to the boundary issue, in the overall interest of both the countries.

Mr. Swaminathan said from all these, it seemed that there has been very little forward movement on the border issue in the last 50 years. The conceptual differences relating to the alignment of the boundary have since extended to include the alignment of the LAC. Referring to his earlier talk at ORF ORF Chennai Chapter on 28th April 2007, he reiterated that there was an urgent need to take these talks to a new dimension. It might be useful if the Special Representatives could be authorised by their principals to look beyond the issue of sovereignty and quickly evolve a practical solution, he said.

He said the issue of Tawang could probably be addressed by agreeing to set up a Joint India-China Peace and Friendship Centre there, with tourists and pilgrims from both countries having free access, subject only to infrastructural limitations. The Government of India may, of course, have to discuss any such ‘radical’ idea with all the major political parties and arrive at a national consensus – in order to present to China a unified national position.”

“Ten months after my earlier suggestion, I feel that it can be refined. China may find it difficult to accept the word “boundary” in my suggestion for an agreement on a practical administrative boundary. At the same time, India should not be happy with continuing the terminology of Line of Actual Control (LAC), as it is not very different from a Cease-Fire Line, which is normally the by-product of a continuing state of war or armed truce. Now that some movement has been made towards reconciling the different views about the actual alignment of the LAC, could not the leadership of both the countries instruct their Special Representatives to speed up the process of defining the line and name the resulting line as the “Agreed Line of Administrative Control”, pending an eventual permanent solution?”, he said.

On the economic relations front, Mr. Swaminathan said if India-China economic, trade and investment relations have to move beyond the current take-off stage, India has to address Chinese concerns about non-tariff (often security-related) barriers, mainly in sectors like telecommunications, port development, civil aviation etc. “It can be nobody’s case that security concerns should be brushed aside, but a pragmatic and non-paranoid approach would help a lot. The development of B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-customer) relations and the establishment of brand names of India in China and of China in India are issues to be addressed vigorously and jointly by Indian and Chinese business houses,” he said.

Mr. Swaminathan said though China may, for the moment, be inclined to keep aside contentious issues and maintain cordiality with India, she apparently feels that her own space in East Asia is being squeezed by India. “China cannot ignore the possibility that India-US-Japan-Australia quartet may gradually evolve a strategy to restrict China in its own backyard; and may continue her efforts to change certain historical and cultural permanencies through clever polemics.” He said it is for India to overcome Chinese apprehensions and to show that there is enough space in Asia, the fastest growing region in the world, peacefully to accommodate all its constituents.

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